As a mother of 3, one with special needs, I am always looking for different approaches, ideas and support for myself and others. We are flooded on a daily basis with suggestions, ideas, products and much more. This is my take on learning with my children.

Children are curious by nature. I know mine are. They ask countless questions throughout the day to satisfy their thirst for knowledge. This isn’t the only way children learn however. They also absorb the world around them by watching, touching, smelling, and trying things themselves by trial and error. Have you ever tried to stack building blocks as high as you could without having them topple over? How about the stacking point pencils, the quest to connect as many as possible and then lifting them carefully without breaking the connection? We all love trying out new things and want to learn.

Schools and educational programs have learned over the years that just using a strict teaching method isn’t always the most effective. They are starting to use a more interactive teaching style that incorporates play, having children try it themselves (trial and error), active hands on activities and traditional learning.


Maria Anderson uses this to describe learning styles. 

  • T stands for Thinking
  • E stands for Experimenting
  • A stands for Academics
  • C stands for Creating
  • H stands for Hearing/Watching

It’s a great way to remember some
core elements when teaching children.
Focusing less on academics and more on play can improve learning for a lot of children. Of course we want them to succeed but it is important to note that some children don’t do well in a regular classroom setting. Some need more one on one time, some learn faster by using a variety of different approaches. My son for example needs extensive one on one time while my oldest is a very independent albeit curious learner. All of them prefer nontraditional methods that allow for creative and fun approaches. There are many great tools and toys that have emerged over time that combine different elements of learning.

What should a good developmental toy offer that can be applied to every learning style?

  • High Contrasting Colors – Easy to identify, teaches color recognition
  • Tactilely Stimulating – Learning through touch, feel and movement
  • Visually Stimulating – Colors and lights draw attention and help recognition
  • Wide Age Range– Teamwork, development and difficulty levels
  • Inviting Due To Uniqueness– Children get bored, uniqueness fosters curiosity
  • Open-Ended– Creativity and Planning, new experiences without stopping
  • Can Be Used Independently or with Others – Fosters multiple aspects of learning
  • Hands-On Approach to Learning – Learning by doing, invaluable
  • Different Shapes and/or Colors – Color and shape recognition, creating together
  • Fosters Imagination/Promotes Creativity – Critical thinking and problem solving made fun

Having these features in a toy or application caters to the physical, cognitive, sensory and communicative needs of children or even adults with disabilities. Take building blocks for kids as an example.
They address physical needs by improving fine and gross motor skills, hand- eye coordination, hand strength and cause and effect.
Cognitive abilities are enhanced by part to whole relationships, counting, color recognition, cause and effect, following direction and strategic thinking.
Sensory learning is supported by visual stimulation, for example light up pegs, different shapes and different textures and aid in supporting the other aspects. Sensory learning is also a great aid for special needs children like those who are diagnosed with Autism for example.
Communicative development happens when children learn to follow verbal direction, ask questions, give feedback, and talk about the project, help with critical thinking, assessing, evaluating and thought processing.

Taking a holistic approach at learning does not only benefit the child it also benefits the teacher or parent. If children have fun they are more likely to cooperate and interact, reducing “stress” for the person teaching. Most parents and teachers know how difficult it can be to motivate a child to do or learn something they have deemed boring. It’s even more difficult to get different age groups to use the same tools or toys and still work together. Fun is the key.

Where to look for new, innovative and educational toys?

Toy fairs are a great place to start. The toys can be seen, touched, felt, played with and experimented with. Vendors are there to answer any questions and there is always a good chance for discounts.

Online. Google is a great tool to find specific areas if you already know what you are looking for. Don’t forget to look up reviews, as they give you a great insight into the product and what other parents or educators think. 

There are also a variety of great websites that evaluate educational toys like AblePlay or the National Lekotek Center who review for the benefit of the children and also examine if it is suitable for special needs.

In summary, having a play connection to provide effective and engaging learning experiences is beneficial not just to the child but the educator as well. Keeping everyone engaged, curious and creative can make a difference in success and failure. 

On a last note, Laser Pegs has a contest on their facebook page for elementary schools and developmental programs to win a kit! 

Follow me on Twitter and let me know your thoughts on learning with your children.